Many companies are embracing a “hybrid” work setup wherein workers come into the office a few days per week. Managing teams in this hybridized environment requires careful planning and clear communication among all team members—all while avoiding micromanagement. In this evolving situation, how can you become the best team leader and/or project manager possible?
Heather Paunet, senior vice president at Untangle, suggested that management must adopt a mindset that’s more understanding, patient, and empathetic for employees. “Remote and hybrid work can mask challenges an employee may be facing that would have been easier to recognize in an office,” she said. “Management needs to learn to spot issues and deal with them perhaps differently than in the office.”
She recommended management also shift the focus from an “in-office” mentality to a “work from anywhere” mentality. “This needs to be applied to how meetings and collaboration are conducted, and it means finding tools and technology to facilitate productivity without micromanaging,” she added. “Luckily, even before the pandemic the future of work was moving toward a distributed workforce and there are several collaboration software options for companies of all sizes.”
Choosing the Right Tools
Collaboration tools and automating software can greatly assist team leaders and remote workers in adopting a new workflow. Automation can also help solve the security issues that will inevitably come with a hybrid workforce. In terms of cybersecurity, management will need to educate teams to be diligent to prevent employees from bringing threats back to the office (such as unauthorized software and tools they installed on corporate laptops while working from home).
Amy Pisano, CRO at Hired, an A.I.-driven hiring marketplace that matches talent with employers, pointed out Slack (for example) as a great tool to quickly and efficiently communicate about ad-hoc things that need immediate clarification and answers: “Managers can also set up Slack channels that encourage non-work-related conversations and team bonding—replacing the ‘water cooler’ conversations that would happen in an office.”
Many tools (again, such as Slack) also offer the ability for managers to quickly poll team members about upcoming issues. “I also frequently use the poll functionality to check for availability and preferences within my team,” she added.
Supriya Goswami, vice president of product marketing at Whatfix, noted that empowering a remote and/or hybrid workforce starts with the tools that make remote work possible—they must be easy to access, and they must be easy to use.
“It definitely helps when you can use applications that fall under the same umbrella to address employee needs; you’ll save time and avoid the stress normally associated with navigating between unique access points,” she said. “After all, little annoyances can add up to big frustrations much faster than you want them to.”
Another solution is to route all work-essential applications through your company's human resources management system, creating a single access portal across all remote and remote workers. “Either way, you’re always looking to reduce any known friction points employees might have in accessing the tools they need to do their jobs productively,” she said.
There are ways management can monitor the work without micromanaging. “Ideally, you want to set a schedule so everyone knows what to expect, for example once weekly,” Paunet said. “This can take the place of the casual ‘walk by’ or ‘water cooler’ conversations about project status, or other work-related issues. This can also apply to team meetings with a brief, limited time check-in on current projects.”
Paunet also pointed to tools such as Google Docs and Microsoft 365 that make collaboration on projects easier, as well as the plethora of instant messaging tools to allow conversations regarding projects to happen quickly without using email: “At the end of the day, management needs to take a pulse on if the work is complete and deadlines are being met and adjust their visibility accordingly.”
Embrace Asynchronous Work
When it comes to fostering collaboration among remote workers, it’s key to find tools that enable asynchronous work. Paunet pointed to Loom as an ideal app for sharing updates with distributed teams, as it allows users to record and share video messages of your screen and/or yourself.
“This is often much faster and easier to digest than a long email or scheduling a meeting and supports the remote-first work environment,” she said. “I have team members in three time zones, so Loom has been helpful to provide business updates and news asynchronously.”
Goswami said the biggest mistake that management at Whatfix has tried to avoid is assuming that remote and hybrid workers need to adhere to a traditional schedule to be effective. “Providing flexibility and finding ways to work asynchronously across multiple schedules—sometimes spread out globally—can be a game-changer, especially because of the afforded ability to separate productive working hours from non-working hours,” she said. “This ultimately reduces mental fatigue and increases efficiency across tasks and projects.”
Pisano said Hired uses the project management tool Asana, which helps managers see who is owning and working on what tasks and projects, what the latest updates are on each, and when deadlines are coming up. “With a distributed team, having such a tool where everything is being shared, documented, and updated is crucial and allows managers to keep track of everyone’s progress and workload and help move projects along as needed,” she said. “They can have clear visibility into what’s going on at a detailed level, but don’t have to necessarily chime in.”
The Trickiness of Hybrid Onboarding
Onboarding also needs to adapt to include team building and welcoming events for new employees, even if those new employees only come into the office occasionally. Any onboarding must include the technology that the company uses for collaboration.
“Each platform has differences that a short training can accommodate for,” Paunet explained. “More time may also need to be added to an onboarding schedule to accommodate for any shipping of equipment and set-up time needed.”
At Untangle, new employees are placed in one-on-one meetings with each person on the team. The discussion should include how they will work together, while allowing for non-work topics to help them get to know each other.
Goswami said onboarding needs to remain the same as in the “old days” in one significant way—it is still about arming all employees with the guidance and assistance they need to learn and adopt your organization’s tools and processes: “This is especially important with both new hires as well as your greater workforce that might need to adjust to new remote responsibilities.”
Goswami suggested that, from her perspective, fostering team spirit starts with staying connected. “We try to host regular team events for people to come together. They may be primarily virtual for now, but it’s still a chance for people to enjoy each other without talking shop,” she said. “Additionally, giving clear avenues and options for mentorship and upskilling is also key to building a cohesive culture and keeping your team spirit strong and collaborative.”